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Software Engineering, University of Waterloo

My Gym Transformation

In late 2016, I started lifting weights at the gym. I had no idea what to expect, but I stuck with it. I’m quite pleased with the results and wanted to share my experiences in this blog post, which I will update every now and then.

Progress picture

Before and after pictures

Why I started lifting weights

The reason why I started lifting weights isn’t very inspiring. The reason was because my friends told me to, so I decided to give it a try.

How I started

I went on the internet and searched up beginner gym programs, and found StrongLifts 5x5. It seemed legit and simple, so I followed the guide and watched the training videos. I signed up for a two month gym membership at Blink Fitness, which was only $25/month. I went to the gym and began ‘Workout A’, which consisted of squats, bench press, and barbell row. The program recommended to start with just the 45lb barbell for all of the exercises. I remember squatting for the first time and being incredibly off-balanced with the empty barbell on my back.

Looking back, it was quite a humbling experience… I went to the gym by myself, so it was fairly lonely working out at the gym. I was initially intimidated by the guys squatting with large plates on their barbell. Or that time I failed at bench press for the first time and was trapped under a 85lb barbell. I tried my best rolling out, until someone bicep curled the barbell back to the rack.

For the most part, I was progressing linearly from workout to workout. I distinctly remember the excitement of getting to milestones such as squatting 135lbs, or upgrading my bench press to a 25lb plate! It was really fun to workout and see my lifts going up.

Humble beginnings. (Note the struggles and poor form)


My Progression

First day of lifting weights.

October 29, 2016


After my first two months of lifting in New York, I looked like this.

December 21, 2016


I returned to school, and started going to PAC with my friends. I ate out pretty much every meal for the first two months, and then I looked like this.

March 1, 2017


I learned how to cook food, and started eating out less. I downloaded MyFitnessPal to track literally everything I was eating. After a couple weeks of tracking what I was eating, I started losing some weight.

April 4, 2017


I continued cooking more and more, and lost more fat! Now, it’s the first day of my internship in Seattle, and I decided to “bulk” and gain weight, in the hopes of building more muscle.

May 1, 2017


After eating a lot of great food (i.e. Din Tai Fung) and hitting new PRs over the months, I gained about 15lbs to my peak weight shown in the picture below.

August 10, 2017


For the month of September, I cooked basically every single meal that I ate, and counted my calories very strictly. In this picture below, I’m at the ‘valley’ of my weight.

September 29, 2017


I maintained my weight throughout October, and I’m starting to gain weight slowly now. For the past two months, I’ve also found an awesome gym partner who lives in my residence. We’ve been pushing each other hard to constantly improve. Can’t express how thankful I am to have a gym buddy!

November 11, 2017


Because I love data, here’s a visualization of my body weight over the year. I invested $12 into an electronic scale, and weigh myself everyday.

Routine

I would recommend r/fitness to read about workout routines.

I got started with 5x5 StrongLifts and used that program for a few months, until I wasn’t able to progress linearly anymore. Then, I continued working out 3x a week, adding in some other exercises into my own random program. I also experimented with Smolov Jr for a few weeks to get my bench press up. Next, I moved onto n-Suns, a 5-day split. After a few months, I switched to a Push-Pull-Leg program, which had tons of volume. Now, I’m back on n-Suns.

I learned the workouts by watching videos on YouTube, and reading about them online. For most of the year, I worked out by myself, so it was difficult to learn the correct form for some exercises. I would strongly recommend to master the form of the exercise, instead of solely focusing on increasing the weights. I also believe that for beginners, any recommended routine works, as long as you stay consistent and get the form right.

Nutrition

Although this blog post is titled “my gym transformation”, the biggest transformation was actually my nutrition. I’d attribute 80% of my results to nutrition, and 20% to lifting. As a high school kid, I remember watching videos about “six pack shortcuts” or “secrets to getting abs”. I tried some of those “belly fat destroyer” routines several years ago, but saw no results.

As shown in my March 1 picture above, I was at the peak of my weight. I learned how to cook, and began counting calories on MyFitnessPal. Though it was a strenuous task in the beginning, counting calories became easier over time. Here’s an example of a diary log.

For the month of April, my daily calories consumption was ~2150.

Since I started tracking my calories, I’ve removed many junk food items from my diet. As a result of learning how to cook, I’ve reduced my food expenses by over 50%!

In my most recent cutting phase, I aimed to consume 1800 calories daily. I actually don’t use MyFitnessPal anymore, since I have a pretty good idea of how many calories I’m consuming.

Lessons Learned

1. Consistency is key.

Consistency was definitely the biggest key to my success. In New York and Waterloo, my morning routine was going to the gym around 6~7AM. In Seattle, I went to the gym during lunch time. During these times, the gym is fairly empty, so it enabled me to workout more efficiently. Of course, eating healthy consistently is critical.

2. Be patient, results will come.

As you can tell from the photos, looking in the mirror doesn’t always yield immediate results. Processes like gaining muscle and losing weight don’t happen overnight. You just have to be patient, continue working out & eating healthy, and results will come!

3. Don’t skip squats.

Squats is one of the major 3 compound exercises. Search on Google why you shouldn’t skip squats.

Challenges

1. Finding the right motivation.

Every person will have different motivations to work out. For mine, it was initially just to please my friend’s requests. Over time, my motivation and passion for working out has evolved from a “chore” to a hobby and stress-reliever. The 1/2/3/4 plate club is my current goal, and I hope to achieve it in the next 6 months!

2. The journey was lonely at times.

I believe I’ve worked out by myself for 75%+ of the time. It’s a lot more fun when you go the gym with your friends!

3. Not eating out was a big sacrifice.

Although I saved hundreds of dollars from not eating out, it was a bit sad eating by myself during the cutting phase.

4. I was intimated by the gym environment.

At the beginning, as someone who’s never lifted weights before, it was very intimidating to get started. You’ll find that people in the gym are actually quite friendly.

What’s Next?

I’m going to continue working out, eating healthy, and getting stronger. I’ve made a lot of friends who share a common interest in this lifestyle, and I’ve dramatically improved my time management skills. The past 11 months was only the beginning of my journey. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me!